At the beginning of this New Year we are taking a look at the work of the organisations that PBI Colombia accompanies, to highlight the importance of their work defending human rights. One of the initiatives created to support communities affected by violence in the Antioquia department are the humanitarian caravans organised by the Corporation for Legal Freedom (Corporación Jurídica Libertad – CJL) as part of the Antioquia Social Guarantees Process in the North East of Antioquia, the North of Antioquia and Bajo Cauca.
Violence in the country continues. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 107 leaders and social leaders dedicated to the defence of human rights were killed in 2019; with Antioquia, Arauca, Cauca and Caquetá, being the most affected departments. So far this year, on average one human rights defender has been killed every day.
The Peace Agreement has not brought an end to the violence in Bajo Cauca, where PBI accompanied the first humanitarian caravan in August 2019. There have already been 30 murders in the first three weeks of this year, in this sub-region of the Antioquia department. In the village of El Guáimaro an unidentified illegal group carried out an armed incursion. Two men were also murdered and decapitated in the village of El Toro by the Caparrapos neo-paramilitary group, and two more people were murdered in a billiard bar in the municipality of El Bagre. There have also been several forced displacements from rural areas to urban areas, such as occurred in the municipality of Tarazá where 107 people had to flee the La Pipiola village after the arrival of armed men.
The humanitarian caravan through the eyes of a Brigadista
It was quite an adventure travelling through Bajo Cauca along muddy roads full of obstacles. Two buses were filled with people and several vehicles carried members of international organisations and the press. For hours our bus driver showed considerable skills driving along these challenging roads. Nevertheless, on the way to the village of La Caucana, in the municipality of Tarazá, the track contained such deep holes that the driver refused to go any further. He was afraid that we would get stuck. We got off the buses in despair, some people had already painted their faces, ready to perform a clown show, and we thought that we would not be able to continue with the caravan, which had meant so much work for the organisations involved. However, the organisers from CJL were so determined that within 10 minutes they had come up with a solution. Two country buses or chivas appeared on the horizon, suitable for these country roads. We were all able to fit into the buses and the cars belonging to the international organisations and the media (UNDP, II UN Mission, MAPP-OAS and Caracol Radio) and continue our journey. When we arrived at La Caucana the community was already waiting for us waving white flags and wearing white clothes to guide us to the sports centre where the activities were set to take place.
Speeches were made by the social leaders from the community and by CJL, and then the cultural activities began. One of the most successful parts of the caravan was the clown show, which entertained the children, also drawing spontaneous smiles from their parents. There was even time to joke with the organisers as they tried their skills as acrobats. At the end of the afternoon when it was time for us to leave, the children who had enjoyed the clown show followed us to the bus to say goodbye.
The humanitarian caravans aim to raise awareness of the significant impact of the armed conflict in the sub-regions of North East Antioquia, Bajo Cauca and the North of Antioquia. The communities from these regions have for decades been living in humanitarian crisis marked by forced displacement, confinement, threats and killings of their social leaders. The route through different villages in the region was chosen because of the need to defend life, using art and culture as a tool for resilience, resistance and continued life within these lands.
The village of La Caucana sits within lands being fought over by 2 illegal armed actors, the Gaitanist Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AGC) and the Caparrapos. In fact, only 2 weeks after the humanitarian caravan visited the village there was an armed confrontation between members of these two neo-paramilitary groups near the sports centre where the activities of the humanitarian caravan had taken place. At the time of the clashes, the children from the La Caucana School were near the area doing an activity as part of Peace Week.
Bajo Cauca is a complex and strategic region disputed by multiple illegal armed actors: the AGC, the Caparrapos, the National Liberation Army (ELN) and FARC dissidents. Moreover, according to Ariel Ávila, deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation (Fundación Paz y Reconciliación – PARES), there are high levels of corruption within the state authorities, which is one of the factors at the heart of the armed conflict. During the humanitarian caravan CJL also noted the absence of state institutions in Bajo Cauca and they have reported that “there is no Rule of Law in this region”.
The Corporation for Legal Freedom (Corporación Jurídica Libertad – CJL)
CJL participates in and is a spokesperson for the Social Guarantees Process (Proceso Social de Garantías – PSG), a space in which a number of social organisations participate, that focuses on the creation of security guarantees for human rights defenders. Activities include writing reports and joint work with communities to create self-protection protocols. The Social Guarantees Process is part of the Regional Roundtable for Guarantees in Antioquia (Mesa Territorial de Garantías de Antioquia). The activities of the Regional Roundtable consist essentially of plenary meetings, a series of working sub-committees and twice-yearly hearings in which the work is evaluated. The CJL Guarantees field team carries out specific activities including protection and self-protection workshops, verification visits, hearings, humanitarian caravans, emergency missions and evaluation meetings.
PBI accompanied the humanitarian caravans and guaranteed protection and visibility for the work of these human rights defenders, who called upon legal and illegal armed actors to respect the right of the civilian population not to participate in the armed conflict and the principle of distinction during armed confrontations. The caravans also facilitated dialogue meetings between communities and the authorities, fundamental to building stable and lasting peace. International accompaniment of the humanitarian caravans offered the necessary protection so that the communities could develop and share their message of hope that peace is being built within the regions.
Inge Van Der Spek
 Redacción Digital BLU Radio: En 25 de los 32 departamentos del país se presentaron asesinatos de líderes: ONU, 18 January 2020
 La FM: Unidad de Víctimas auxilia a 107 personas desplazadas en Tarazá (Antioquia), 22 January 2020
 Caracol Radio Medellín: Criminales obligaron a cerrar el comercio en La Caucana, Tarazá, 17 September 2019